Zero Waste Coffee | A Few Ways

Zero Waste Coffee | A Few Ways

Going zero waste for your daily cup of Joe is a huge and easy start to reduce your impact, and, aside from the initial set up of a zero waste system, it won't require any more work on your part.  

When I first started drinking coffee a few years back, I was using K-cups and a keurig.  The machine was so easy, the k-cups so cute.  The coffee kept me functioning.  Even at the beginning, I had an underlying guilt.  For a while, I refused to research how to recycle k-cups, probably because I knew the truth - those little plastic guys were going to the landfill for ever.  We all know at this point that plastics are the Tuck Everlasting of inanimate materials.  They never die.  Well, eventually they will biodegrade, but we are talking 450 years at best.  In a landfill, with no sunlight or air, plastics biodegrade at a much slower rate - over 1000 years.  Even worse, if those plastics fall from the trash truck and end up in in a water shed or the ocean with direct sunlight, they will break down in about a year, but they are not exactly biodegrading.  They are breaking down into teeny tiny toxic small pieces that enter the water system, negatively impacting wild life and us.  It was enough for me.  I had to give up my k-cups.  

First, I tried re-usable k-cups, but I found the coffee sludge at the bottom of my cup to be pretty uninviting.  At that point, I donated my keurig and purchased a normal ol' coffee maker.  Remember, I wasn't all the way zero waste, just trying to cut down on the plastic.  I purchased ground coffee in a cylindrical container I could recycle, and I used un-bleached filters that I could compost right along with my coffee grounds.  This was a decent solution for a few years.  

It grinds (no extra kitchen gadget!) and has an insulated carafe.  

It grinds (no extra kitchen gadget!) and has an insulated carafe.  

Now, enter zero waste.  If you are starting out zero waste and don't have a few hundred dollars to dole out, take note of the gift giving holidays you have coming up!  There are some super fun gifts you could put on your list.  For me, one of these was this coffee maker.  A number of grocery stores in my area carry bulk coffee beans, but they weren't ground.  I knew I would have buy a grinder if I wanted to buy package-free.  I had some experience with this coffee maker from visiting family, and I liked a few of the bells and whistle - there is a built in grinder, which meant I didn't need to waste additional packaging on an additional kitchen gadget.  The carafe is insulated, keeping our coffee hot without use of a built in hotplate.  AND it has a setting to make my coffee at a set time in the morning, if I have the wherewithal in the evening to get it set up (that's hilarious and has happened approximately 5 times in the 2 years I've had this machine).


With my old coffee maker, I was composting my filters, but they were packaged in soft plastic packaging AND I love to save some money.  I no longer buy filters, because this beauty has a reusable filter that does not leave a layer of sludge in the bottom of the pot.  I don't know how it does it, since I have had the sludge problem with other reusable filters, but I think this falls in the category of not looking a gift horse in the mouth.  If it doesn't leave sludge, I don't need to question.   This is similar to what my coffee maker has, but there are plenty available on Amazon that say they fit in most coffeemakers. Without the filter, I don't always even walk all the way to the composter to dump my grounds.  I've been known to just empty the filter at the base of some plants just outside my back door or in the garden in the summer time.  No composter necessary. So, you can seriously do this without making tons of changes (like buying or creating a compost bin).


Finally, I am lucky that a bunch of grocery stores in my area carry bulk coffee that I purchase in a reusable bag.  I'll walk you through my zero-waste grocery shop in a later post for more details, but this is that it looks like.  I use a washable wax crayon on the bag to write the bulk bin number, and they weigh it at the register. If you don't have a washable crayon, they always have twist ties or stickers at the bulk bins to use.  Not zero waste, but definitely less.  The beans get transferred to a glass jar when I get home.  I buy my beans at a local store, but there are a number of chains that carry bulk coffee beans, as well.  The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and Wegmans are a few.  If you are in the Richmond area, Good Foods Grocery and Ellwood Thompson's are awesome, too.  If you have never shopped bulk before, it can be intimidating at first, but I PROMISE it is super easy.  I was nervous the first time I went through the checkout with my reusable bag, but the cashiers don't bat an eye.   I purchased mine specifically for this purpose, but you can make your own out of sheets or pillow cases (plenty of tutorials online) if you are craftier than I am.  

Mine is not the only way to go waste free with coffee.  I like mine hot and fresh, and this works for my family.  But, here are a few more ideas if you want to try them:

  • Homemade cold brew - Low waste, low energy.  Especially good in summer if you are icing your coffee.  
  • Take a reusable cup, mug, or mason jar to your favorite coffee shop!  You might be surprised at how easy this is.  I've never tried this in a drive through, but if you walk in it is almost never a problem.  I've even done this at McDonald's on a road trip without trouble.
  • Give up coffee!  Haha, just kidding.  I did that for a while, and I came crawling back, all pathetic-like.

I would love to hear if you have other ideas on cutting back your coffee waste!